|Power and Privilege
The Sticker Means
by Patrick Beckwith
t was in August of 1993 that I began my career as an educatora high school math teacher, to be exact. And like any new teacher I was excited, energized, and to be honest, a bit scared. My first day on the job was spent in my classroom, preparing for the arrival of students in a few days. I gathered textbooks and supplies, organized the room, and began working on my lesson plans.
Day number two, however, tempered my excitement and increased my fear. This day was spent at the Desert Inn Hotel, where leaders of the Clark County Classroom Teachers Association made their pitch for joining the teachers union. All 800 new hires to the Clark County School District were required to attend the all-day event. We were divided into groups of roughly 100 and put into separate convention rooms. Within the room we were seated 10 to a table, nine new hires and one union representative.
Once the doors were closed the sales job began. Some new hires had already joined the union prior to this gathering and were given an apple sticker to wear in acknowledgment of this. Those who had not joined were left stickerless, like some disobedient child being punished. The rep at each table kept up the pressure from the outset. The goal for each rep was 100 percent enrollment. As each new teacher signed up they were given a sticker, leaving those without self-conscience and ostracized.What We Werent Told
The benefits of membership were extolled upon us by several CCCTA members as we were quickly taken through a mound of paperwork concerning every conceivable insurance, including medical, dental, vision, cancer, disability, auto and life. There was also a presentation on Tax Sheltered Annuities. We were led to believe that if it were not for the union these benefits would never be made available to us. Only later did I discover that Nevada State law requires that union and non-union members receive the same salary, benefit and retirement packages.
If the supposed positive reasons for membership were not enough to convince you to join the union, the negatives for not joining were laid out for you. CCCTA members shared horror stories of school administrators with vendettas who would prey upon helpless teachers and attempt to destroy their careers. Only the union could save you from these monsters, as if non-members are not entitled to due process, legal representation, or liability insurance. Unfortunately I was na´ve and uniformed so I joined the CCCTA, and therefore by default the Nevada State Education Association and the National Education Association.
Over the next three years I received weekly mailings from either the CCCTA or the NSEA. These flyers exclusively concerned legislation, negotiation, or workplace issues and how they might negatively impact teachers. The mailings always represented Republicans in the legislature, as well as district and school administrators, as the enemy. The union though was fighting to preserve our jobs and our rights. Sadly, I dont ever recall the CCCTA or the NSEA mailing me anything that talked about educating children or becoming better teachers.Daniel in the Lions Den
In August of 1996, as I began my fourth year teaching, I decided to be active in the union in an effort to change the agenda. I was elected a building senator (a school rep) and attended my first meeting in September of that year. It was an eye-opening experience. The discussion centered around the upcoming November elections and the need to elect "education-friendly" candidates. After a half-hour of listening I began to realize that "education-friendly" really means "teacher-friendly." The union was supporting candidates that would provide more funding (i.e., tax increases) for higher salaries, greater benefits and additional jobs as well as protect teachers from accountability and discipline. Never did the discussion address educating students.
Finally, I took the opportunity to rise and speak. I felt a little like Daniel in the lions den as I began to question this agenda. I wondered aloud if they realized that additional funds would have to come from tax and fee increases, and whether I was the only one in the room who paid taxes. The members were acting as if there was some suitcase full of money that the legislature would just open up and distribute to us.
I then dared to question the endorsement of these candidates as representative of what the members actually believe. I explained that we are all capable of independent thought and that we have a variety of issues that are important to us outside of education. Ken Lange, NSEA Director, gave me a polite "thank you" and I returned to my seat. As I felt a room full of eyes staring at me in disapproval I realized that this was not a place where dissenting opinions were to be voiced or discussed. As I drove home that evening I knew that it was time for me to resign from the CCCTA. This would prove harder that I could have imagined.The Real Objective: A Political Agenda
The following week I contacted CCCTA about resigning. I explained that I had political, philosophical, and moral differences that would make it impossible for me to continue as a member. The representative told me that I would be unable to resign from the union until July, when there would be a one-week period in which I could do so. Therefore I was forced to pay an additional nine months of dues (roughly $360) and then make sure I was in town during my vacation so I could submit my resignation. Not exactly a convenient system for disgruntled members.
During this nine-month period I came upon a situation where I felt the union might be able to provide me with some valuable information. My building principal wanted to "buy out my prep," in other words, pay me to teach an additional class during my free period each day. This class was going to be for seniors who had failed to pass the Math Proficiency Exam, which students are required by the state to pass. I said yes and then contacted the union to find out how much additional money I would be paid. I talked to several representatives, none of whom could provide me with an answer. I wondered why I paid dues. But I now knew why: It was to further a political agenda.
I am two years removed from NSEA and have failed to see any downside. Upon moving to Carson City last August I was asked by a building rep why I hadnt joined the Ormsby County Education Association. As I have in the past, I answered her honestly and straightforwardly about my concerns.
In closing let me say that I have the utmost respect for the vast majority of my colleagues. Most do a very admirable job on a daily basis. However, every teacher knows of at least one educator in their building that they would never want teaching their own child. Yet the union fights vigorously for bad teachers to keep teaching. If educators truly want to be treated like professional they should police themselves better, by ridding their ranks of poor teachers, rather than behaving like the Teamsters. NJ
Patrick Beckwith lives and teaches in Carson City.